euronews London correspondent Ali Sheikholeslami spoke to Amnesty International’s secretary-general Salil Shetty about groundshifts taking place in Muslim countries and in Europe.
Ali Sheikholeslami, euronews: People in Egypt are voting for a new president but aren’t you worried by the future of the countries that experienced the so-called ‘Arab Spring’?
Salil Shetty, Amnesty International: The dictators have gone in many of these countries in transition but not the dictatorships. So we have to keep our eyes very carefully on these places. We hope that, irrespective of who becomes the president, there are some absolutely urgent things they need to do.
First of all, emergency law needs to be scrapped; second is that the security apparatus needs a complete overhaul. And we need a constitution which is going to be rights-respecting.
Without a strong constitution, which is focused not just on majority rights but also on the rights of women and the rights of religious minorities like the Copts, it will be very difficult to build the rest of the edifice.
So we need the constitution, we need the institutions, we need education, because these things cannot change overnight. It means a lot of work for the new president. But I’m optimistic. Overall, the change is very important. But if anybody thought it was going to be very easy to change something that was built up over decades, that’s asking too much.
euronews: If I can move to the UN Security Council: it has not really shown any leadership in dealing with the Syrian crisis. What is your assessment of the Council’s role, and at the same time of the grave situation in Syria?
Shetty: Thousands of lives had to be sacrificed in Syria before the Security Council could take some action, a feeble resolution to put a small number of military observers in the ground. Now Amnesty International reports have made it clear that the atrocities in Syria constitute crimes against humanity.
But the Council has not taken any action, not referring to the International Criminal Court even the minimum things that need to be done and which have not happened. And, unfortunately, we know that the reason this is happening is because Russia has commercial and military interests in Syria, and China is backing Russia, and of course we also know that this is not a new pattern of behaviour of Security Council permanent members.
The United States backed the Egyptian dictatorship for years, the French were backing the Tunisians’, so now really we need a major change in the way the Security Council operates.
They’re supposed to be acting on behalf of all the member states of the United Nations, but they’re clearly acting only on their narrow self-interests.
euronews: Let’s look westward. It has been a year of protest, and a lot of this in Europe and the US stems from people’s economic woes. What policies need to be changed?
Shetty: The consequences of the crisis are being faced by some of the most marginalised and poorest sections of the communities.
So, in Europe, we have seen a big sort of scapegoating of immigrants and refugees, as if they have caused the problem. So what we are calling on governments to do is to make sure that they do not allow this economic crisis to become a human rights crisis.
So, before they go for slashing public budgets and cutting services which are, notably, provided for marginalised groups, they have to assess the human rights impact, a priori. So, whether it’s a right to health or water or education, or a right to adequate housing, they have to remember that they are signatories to international commitments on these issues, and they have to make an assessment up front.